Bei­jing poised to take ‘de facto con­trol’ of S. China Sea: Philip­pines

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MARTIN ABBUGAO

Bei­jing is poised to take “de facto con­trol” of the South China Sea, the Philip­pines warned Sun­day, but its call for a ro­bust Southeast Asian re­sponse at a re­gional sum­mit was shot down.

Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strate­gic body of wa­ter, but the main­land China au­thor­i­ties claim nearly all of it, and its in­creas­ingly stri­dent ter­ri­to­rial as­ser­tions have caused con­cern in the re­gion and be­yond.

“(Main­land China) is poised to con­sol­i­date de facto con­trol of the South China Sea,” Philip­pine For­eign Sec­re­tary Al­bert del Rosario said in Kuala Lumpur a day ahead of an an­nual As­so­ci­a­tion of Southeast Asian Na­tions ( ASEAN) sum­mit.

He sin­gled out a cam­paign of land recla­ma­tion on dis­puted reefs that has raised the specter of per­ma­nent Chi­nese bases far out in the sea from which it can en­force its sovereignty.

‘Stand up for what is right’

“Is it not time for ASEAN to say to our north­ern neigh­bor that what it is do­ing is wrong and that the mas­sive recla­ma­tions must be im­me­di­ately stopped?” del Rosario asked his fel­low min­is­ters.

“Is it not time for ASEAN to fi­nally stand up for what is right?”

But sum­mit host Malaysia later re­jected the idea of a re­sponse that could an­tag­o­nize main­land China.

“We must avoid any ac­tion that would be counter-pro­duc­tive and bring us fur­ther apart, ei­ther amongst our­selves, or with ( main­land) China,” Malaysian For­eign Min­is­ter Ani­fah Aman said.

“I don’t think ASEAN would like to be given an ul­ti­ma­tum, and by the same to­ken I don’t think China would like to be given an ul­ti­ma­tum.”

Faced with Bei­jing’s im­mense trade and diplo­matic lever­age, ASEAN has a his­tory of fail­ing to agree on strong re­sponses over the is­sue on be­half of its mem­bers with dis­puted mar­itime claims.

Con­cern over main­land Chi­nese land recla­ma­tion was re-ig­nited this month by satel­lite pho­tos show­ing huge amounts of sand be­ing dredged and dumped onto frag­ile coral reefs claimed by the Philip­pines.

De­fense an­a­lysts say some of the new is­lands will be big enough for airstrips and other large fa­cil­i­ties, rais­ing the specter of deep­en­ing main­land Chi­nese dom­i­na­tion of a wa­ter­way rich in en­ergy re­serves, fish­ery re­sources, and a vi­tal con­duit for much of world trade.

A draft state­ment pre­pared be­fore the gath­er­ing calls for “sel­f­re­straint” at sea but avoids crit­i­ciz­ing or even men­tion­ing China by name, a diplo­matic source said pre­vi­ously.

Ani­fah said “ASEAN mem­ber­states want to see that this mat­ter should be set­tled am­i­ca­bly,” and he sug­gested the main­land some­day al­low joint use of the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands.

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